Our brain’s primary fuel source is sugar (glucose). When our blood sugar gets low- the brain cries “FEED ME NOW!” and will stop at nothing to be satiated. This will make a sensible person eat half of a birthday cake at the office before coming up for air and realizing what she has done.
When kids eat a high carbohydrate meal (plain noodles, bread with jelly, pancakes with syrup) or too many sweets (soda, candy), they will get the sugar HIGH and then the sugar CRASH.
First their blood sugar will climb the roller coaster, sending them into hyperactivity. The body wants to keep the sugar level in control so it will pump out insulin to bring it back down. Large amounts of insulin will quickly drop blood sugar and even overcompensate, causing blood sugar to fall below the balanced level. The brain detects this and in an effort to survive starts the process over again with a dramatic call for “MORE FOOD NOW!”
When glucose levels drop too low, we crave more sugar instead of a healthy salad or sandwich. It also makes us feel irritable, unable to concentrate and fatigued. Many kids actually ride this roller coaster all day long! The extra glucose being removed from the blood gets put away in storage for future use, this leads to weight gain if it goes unused. Over time, with high glucose and insulin in the blood, the cells become resistant to insulin – the cause of type 2 diabetes (no longer called “adult onset” because we are seeing it in kids now!). Obesity and diabetes are on the rise in US children and can often be prevented with smarter food choices and exercise.
Riding the blood sugar roller coaster makes kids hyperactive, irritable, emotional, and lack focus. It puts them at risk for obesity and diabetes. Sound nutrition choices are the most effective way to prevent these problems.
So what do you feed them?
~ Balance the carbohydrates (bread, pasta, crackers, chips, rice, cookies) with some protein and fat. When there is fat or protein in a meal- the sugar will enter the blood stream more slowly, reducing the risk of a sugar spike. Fiber will also slow sugar down — this is why we recommend whole fruit (with fiber intact) over a cup of fruit juice which is mostly sugar.
– If your kid just has to have a bagel for breakfast, top it with nut butter, hummus, avocado or sliced meat. If oatmeal is a favorite breakfast, trade the sweetened instant oatmeal for its high fiber whole form,“steel cut oats,” and add chopped nuts and fresh or dried fruit. If you are going to enjoy a little ice cream after dinner make sure dinner had some good protein and fat. Consider mixing a spoonful of peanut butter into the ice cream or top with nuts.
– Limit super sweet foods like dried fruit and fruit leather. A little is great before activity or as part of a meal with protein and fat.
~ Completely avoid corn syrup.
~ Limit cane sugar, cane juice, candy.
~ Watch the drinks!!!! Many kids live on “sugar water” disguised as a healthy drink. Avoid all energy drinks, gatorade, full-strength juice, sweetened lemonade and soda (even the “healthy” ones.)
~ Get moving!! Kids need to play, move and run around every day! Muscle activity is the most effective way to burn up extra glucose in the blood.
Keeping your kids’ blood sugar stable helps keep them stable — emotionally and physically.
Erika Siegel, ND, LAc